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Risk and Fraud

How retailers can protect themselves against organized retail crime

· 6 minute read

· 6 minute read

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Mounting ORC losses

Escalating violence

Searching for solutions

Toward a comprehensive security program

From coordinated shoplifting rings to violent smash-and-grab robberies, retailers of all sizes are losing large amounts of merchandise to organized retail crime (ORC), a form of retail theft backed by national and international crime networks.

ORC thieves aren’t simply shoplifters, they are professionals who execute planned attacks on retailers and steal merchandise that can be re-sold for a profit. Clothing, electronics, appliances, perfume, cosmetics, razor blades, jewelry, power tools, office supplies, food—all are fair game for ORC thieves, who typically pass the merchandise to a “fence,” who then re-sells the items at a discount on online auction sites, at flea markets, or through other retailers.

ORC rings may even hi-jack trucks full of merchandise, or be involved in other forms of crime, such as synthetic identity theft or the trafficking of drugs, guns, and even human beings.

Mounting ORC losses

What all these criminal activities have in common is that they are coordinated and directed by sophisticated crime networks that recruit operatives (thieves (aka “boosters), drivers, lookouts, fences, etc.), train them, and run their operations much like any other profit-making enterprise.

And they do profit. Reliable data on ORC-related losses is hard to come by due to the difficulty of distinguishing ORC from shoplifting statistics overall, but most estimates put combined losses in the tens of billions. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that the average American family will pay more than $500 annually in additional costs due the impact of ORC.

In 2023, Target alone reported $500 million in ORC-related losses. And Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and Dollar Tree have all cited increases in shoplifting and violent crime as part of their rationale for closing stores around the country.

Escalating violence

In addition to inventory losses, which drive up consumer prices, retailers are also increasingly concerned about the violence—or threat of it—that often accompanies ORC operations.

A 2022 analysis by the New York Times found that assaults in grocery stores increased by 63% from 2018 to 2020, during the pandemic, and assaults in convenience stores grew by 75%. And while videos of group smash-and-grabs make headline news, ORC thieves also exploit store policies that explicitly instruct employees not to confront shoplifters out of concern for their own safety.

Searching for solutions

The combined impacts of ORC—financial losses, supply-chain disruptions, negative customer experiences, employee safety, store closings, threats to the brand—are moving legislators, law enforcement, and retailers to work together to find solutions that will deter ORC, disrupt crime rings, and protect consumers.

In California, legislators are currently debating several proposed bills aimed at preventing retail crime. These measures include a proposal that would require employers to develop a “violence prevention plan,” an effort to allow police to make warrant-less arrests of suspected ORC members, and a bill proposing stricter sentences for anyone caught fencing stolen goods.

Many other states have also stiffened penalties for ORC crimes. And nationally, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has launched what it’s calling Operation Boiling Point, an international coalition of law-enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations, financial institutions, and private industry aimed at exposing ORC networks and helping victims of related ORC activities such as human trafficking and forced labor.

Toward a comprehensive security program

These are all well-intentioned efforts, but the reality is that preventing ORC also requires retailers to take pro-active steps to defend themselves, both to protect the business and ensure the safety of their employees.

One of the most effective ways for a business to protect itself against ORC is to create a comprehensive security program, one that combines state-of-the art security technology, AI-powered analytics, and improved employee training.

Real-time monitoring and response capabilities

CCTV cameras that cover the entire premises—parking lots, entrances, store aisles—are a must, of course, but cameras are much more effective if they are also paired with such features as real-time monitoring capabilities, automated license-plate readers, and advanced identity verification software. With these tools in hand, security personnel can identify suspected ORC thieves in real time and pass that information on to law enforcement.

AI-powered analytics

Large retailers can also utilize AI-powered data analytics to analyze store shopping patterns and other data to identify merchandise that is most often targeted, the times thefts are most likely to occur, and location. Using this data, stores can direct more resources to high-risk areas (by securing goods such as razor blades and perfume behind locked cabinets, for example), create less vulnerable store layouts, and better anticipate when and where thefts are most likely to occur.

Employee training

Employees should also be trained to spot suspicious activity, both in person and through the store’s surveillance systems. That way, employees don’t necessarily have to confront a suspected thief, but they can identify and report suspicious behavior to law enforcement. Established lines of communication with local police can also improve response times to reported incidents and increase the chances that ORC thieves will be apprehended.

None of the above measures guarantee that a business won’t be targeted by ORC thieves. But by employing state-of-the-art security technologies, training employees, and collaborating closely with local law enforcement, businesses can greatly reduce the chances that they will be victimized by ORC thieves and other shoplifters.

To explore cutting-edge solutions that can safeguard your retail operations from fraud and organized crime, ask for a free demo today. Protect your business and drive it forward safely with the industry’s most advanced investigative resources.


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